Written by John Hollis and first published by Quicksilva for the 48K ZX Spectrum in 1983, Time-Gate was the first Spectrum game I ever played and is a simple first-person space shooter – basically a Star Raiders clone with a few differences.
The main differences (over Star Raiders) are: 1. the ability to land on planets to repair damage to your ship, 2. hidden time gates which propel you backwards and forwards in time, and 3. you’re required to find a hidden alien planet and destroy it to end the game. But otherwise it’s pretty much the same type of game, where you hyper-jump from sector to sector, shooting enemy ships until you destroy them all.
The display panel at the bottom of the screen shows a sector map on the left (a flashing box, which you cycle by pressing ‘L’, denotes your position); in the middle is the message panel; and on the right are your ‘x’ and ‘y’ axis positions, your speed, and distance to nearest enemy are shown as vertical lines, and your system damage levels are shown as coloured boxes (green for good; magenta for damaged; red for critical). If any of your critical ship functions are red, and they take further damage, your ship will disintegrate, ending the game.
By looking at the sector map you can see how many enemy ships and planets are in that particular sector. Enemy ships are denoted by minus signs; planets are denoted by plus signs. To find an enemy ship you simply line up the ‘X’ and ‘y’ axis indicators and eventually it will come into view. By increasing your speed you can bring the enemy craft into view more quickly. Once an enemy is in view you must then blast it as quickly as possible before it damages you too much.
The ship repairs/refuels by drawing energy from a planet’s core, which unfortunately destroys the planet, so can be done only once (per planet). Also: you can only land on a planet once all enemy ships have be removed from a sector. Some sectors also have hidden time gates in them, which warp you to another time period (whether you want to or not), and one particular sector hides the alien planet. So finding the alien planet, or the time gates, is really a matter of luck.
Time-Gate can be played at five skill levels which changes the number of time zones, the aggressiveness of enemies, and increases the length of the average game in general. On my first playthrough today, at the easiest skill level, I completed the game in about ten minutes, but I think that was because I got lucky in finding the alien planet.
Although Time-Gate is still reasonably playable now, there really isn’t much to it and it doesn’t quite have the challenge of the original Star Raiders. Mostly because the way the lasers fire doesn’t really conform to how perspective should work in cockpit shooters (you can hit an enemy ship with the beam at the bottom of the screen, which isn’t right), which makes shooting the aliens too easy. There are also lots of similar games to this that are much better – even on the humble Spectrum. So the incentive to play Time-Gate now is quite low. It’s still an early Spectrum classic, though. But a more or less forgotten one.